Sarah Neher is the director of faith formation and congregational life at Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology education from McPherson College and a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in youth and young adults from Bethany Theological Seminary. When Sarah is not loving on her congregation, she can be found practicing or teaching on her yoga mat, hiking a trail, cooking up a storm or sipping coffee while catching up with friends.
Senioritis, finals, end of the year concerts, graduations, graduation parties and summer jobs. May is a busy month. It’s a month of endings and celebrations — not only for high school seniors but those who support them.
If you have had a high school senior in your life, you’ve witnessed their itching for freedom, to leave the nest and spread their wings. This leaves parents, mentors and the church community searching for the delicate balance of providing support but not being overbearing.
When we think about how to support transitioning graduates, it is helpful to use a developmental lens. Adolescence is a time when an individual’s experience of the world reaches beyond the family unit. There are different sectors that become an important part of an adolescent’s life: family, friends, schoolmates, work, generational culture, media and church communities. Each of these interactions plays a role in forming their identities and faith.
From a faith formation perspective, faith has been a way for youth to make sense of their life experiences and the world around them. When faith fits nicely within their experience and the social systems around them, it is a very comfortable place to make a home. However, when an individual encounters life experiences that clash with the authority figures in their life, be it family, society or church, they begin to examine their beliefs differently. College is often a time that graduates experience this. In recent years, the term “deconstructing” has become a buzzword for American millennial Christians. Simply defined, it is the process of critically examining the belief and moral structure that was developed from their interactions with the religious community around them. This process should not be viewed as a negative thing. Rather, it is a sign of maturing faith. It’s the mature faith that Hebrews 6:1-3 calls us toward. This is where the church can step in.
Our greatest gift is offering relational support and creating a safe space for questions and wonderings, as our youths’ worldviews expand.
A simple way to do this is to be intentional with the questions we ask them. Instead of asking them how school is going, how they like their roommate or how many times they have changed their major, I wonder what would happen if we deepened our questions. What if we asked them how their worldview is changing? How is their faith impacting their vocation? Where is God calling them? These are the questions that they are going to be wrestling with consciously or unconsciously.
It’s also critical to remember that many of our college-aged youth will be moving to places where faith programming is no longer tailored to them. They may find themselves in a place where they have a limited or no faith community. As Anabaptists, a faith community is central to our faith journey. Finding ways to support our youth from afar can be a challenge. Sending a simple card or message to youth can go a long way — just don’t expect a reply. Our congregation sends a care package to our college students each spring around finals, and it’s always warmly received. The bottom line is: Our efforts don’t have to be extravagant or flashy. Young people want authenticity and intention.
In our changing world that only seems to turn faster, it can be a challenge to know how to best support our graduates. Following Jesus’ example of loving one another wherever we are at in our struggles, life stages and questions is a fine place to start.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.